Increasing “In Common With” (ICW) Functionality at Family Tree DNA

You know how Murphy’s Law works, right?

Right after I wrote the article Nine Autosomal Tools at Family Tree DNA, as in minutes later (Ok, that’s probably an exaggeration), Family Tree DNA made a change and the ICW (in common with) tool functioned differently.  Murphy lives at my house, I swear!

I initially thought perhaps this was unintended, but it may well be a design change since additional functionality was provided and three months have elapsed.

So regardless of whether or not this change is permanent or will change minutes after I publish this article, I’m providing instructions on how this feature works NOW. If it changes or works differently in the future, I’ll let you know!

In all fairness, it’s the addition of the combination searches, I think, that has caused the confusion. Combo searches are great features and powerful, if you know how to use the functionality correctly for what you want to accomplish.

Let’s take a look at how to utilize the various kinds of searches, individually and in combination, step-by-step.

Example One – Regular “In Common With” Matches

The ICW feature shows you who your matches match in common with you. I’ve signed on as my mother for these examples to illustrate this feature since she is a generation more closely related to these folks than I am.

First, let’s do a normal “in common with” search between my mother and her cousin, Donald.  The results of this search will show us everyone that matches mother and Donald, both.


In this example, I’ve done the following:

  1. Selected Donald (who appears on mother’s match list, above) by clicking on the box to the left of his name, which you can see in the “Selected Matches” box at the bottom left indicating he has been selected.
  2. Click on the “in common with” function button above the list of names.


After clicking on the “in common with” button, what I see (above) are all 91 people that match mother in common with Donald, meaning that mother and Donald both match all 91 of these people. This does NOT mean mother and Donald both match them on the same segment(s), only that they do match on at least one segment over the matching threshold.

As you can see, Donald’s name appears now in the “In Common With” box at the top left, along with a total of 91 people who match Donald and my mother both.

To clear any search, meaning all options, at any time, just click on the “reset filter” blue button, located to the right of the “not in common with” function button.

There are multiple features that work together for “in common with” matching and surname searching. Let’s take a look.

Example Two – Surname Searches Plus ICW, Combined

Now, I’ll enter the name Miller in the search box at the upper right. This shows me everyone who has name of Miller, or Miller appearing in their ancestral surnames, who match my mother.

Next, I want to select someone from that Miller match list to see which other people on the Miller match list they match in common with mother. Hey, let’s pick Donald!!!

To utilize a surname search (Miller) and ICW (Donald) together, do the following:

  1. Enter the surname Miller in the search box on the upper right and click enter or the search (blue magnifying glass) icon. Donald appears on the Miller match list, as well as 90 other people.  This means that Donald has Miller appearing in his list of ancestral surnames, since his surname is not Miller.
  2. When the match results are returned, select Donald by clicking on the box to the left of his name.
  3. Then click on the “in common with” function box above the list of matches.


I selected Donald, as you can see, by clicking the box beside his name, and his name now appears in the “Selected Matches” box in the lower left hand corner of the page, indicating that he has been selected. However, note that the name Miller still appears in the search box in the upper right hand corner.

Next, I click on the ICW function button, above the list of matches, and I see the following 22 matches that all share the Miller surname or Miller on their list of ancestral names AND match Donald and mother, both. I’m NOT seeing all of mother’s 91 Miller matches, but ONLY her Miller matches that are ALSO “in common with” Donald.  This immediately gives me a list of people that are very likely descended from this same ancestral Miller line, and some of them will likely triangulate by utilizing the chromosome browser and other tools described in the Nine Autosomal Tools article.


This combination search is a wonderful feature, but this isn’t always what people want to do. Sometimes you want to first see the Miller matches, then select someone from that match list to run the full ICW tool and see ALL of their matches, not just the ICW Miller matches. This is the functionality that works differently than previously, but it’s actually very easy to accomplish.

Surname Search, Then ICW to Person on Match List, but not Combined

Often, you’ll find someone in the ICW Miller match list, for example, and you then want to see ALL of the ICW matches to that person, NOT just the ICW matches with Miller. Said another way, you want to utilize the name of someone found in the Miller search, but not limit the ICW results to just the Miller surname.

In this case, simply follow these steps:

  1. Run the Miller search as in Example One.
  2. Select Donald from the results by clicking on the box beside his name – step #2 in Example Two.  Do NOT click on the ICW button, yet.
  3. REMOVE Miller from the search box at upper right. After removing Miller, you will see the full match list load again (replacing the Miller match list), but Donald remains selected in the “Selected Matches” box in the lower left corner.
  4. Click on the “in common with” function button to see the full ICW match list for the person selected.

Once again, you will see the full match list of 91 people between mother and Donald, as if Miller was never selected.

What Doesn’t Work

One function doesn’t work that worked previously, and that’s the ability to search for a location, meaning those locations in parenthesis in the ancestral surnames.  This type of search is particularly important to people with Scandinavian ancestors whose surnames are patronymic, meaning they derive from a father’s first name, such as Johnsson for John’s son.  These surnames changed generationally and locations are often more reliable in terms of genealogy searches.

This is probably a function of a feature that was being utilized by users in a way never imagined by the designers.  Regardless, a bug report or enhancement request, depending in your perspective, has been submitted, but there is no known work-around today.



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21 thoughts on “Increasing “In Common With” (ICW) Functionality at Family Tree DNA

  1. I asked about location searches when I called FTDNA about something else and the answer I got was that release we signed to let people see our information did not include a release on sharing location information. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me as you can still see the ancestral locations in your match list, just not search on them. So I don’t buy the explanation. Sounds like they’re just trying to cover up a booboo they made in implementing something else.

  2. Roberta, Have had a problem with FamilyTreeDNA support people not understanding a problem with their X Chromosome matches search. Did a search and contacted many people who were on a very long list of X Chromosome AND atDNA matches to my wife. Did not check for one-to-one verification using FamilyTreeDNA’s chromosome browser option to look at a list of matching chromosomes including the “X” before contacting people. Discovered many on the initial list were not actual X Chromosome matches when checked more closely. Can you forward this to someone who will really work on the problem and contact me?

      • Jay, most women have a very long list of X matches. Often hundreds of X matches. But many of them are very very small. i.e. > 1cM but a lot less than a serious match (I would say 10 cM). A lot of these are pseudo-matches.

        When you first look at the Chromosome Browser, which is set to a default of 5 cM, the vast majority of X matches do not show up. If you lower the parameters to 1 cM they pop up.

        But IMHO, these little mini-X matches are not really worth pursuing.

        And I dont think you can find these X matches at FTDNA unless you look at the Chromosome Browser or the accompanying chart. That “X-match” flag on the front page is very misleading.

        Using ADSA is a good way to manage your X-matches. Better than FTDNA.

  3. Thank you Roberta! I didn’t read your entire article yet, but I see it covers some of the problems I’ve been having with the ICW searches. We can always count on you to explain these things.

  4. Roberta, when I first tested on FTDNA, I matched a pair of siblings as 2nd to 4th cousins. Crossmatches with either of them would yield two pages of matches we share. However in the last several months, when I click on either of their names and do the in-common-with, there are NO shared matches. I have checked the chromosome sections individually and they still match my DNA in exactly the same spot. Do you have any idea why this might be happening? I share 54 cM with the sister, and 70 cMs with her brother. Thanks.

  5. The ICW tool would be a lot more effective, if we could download the filtered results to a CSV or Excel file, like we used to. Now every download loads the entire match list. Unless something has changed recently.

    My Wish List includes an opportunity to check for ICWs for three (or more) people. If I find an ICW list of 87 people between John and Mary and 66 between Tom and Mary, and 41 between John and Tom, I really would like to know who is ICW to all three. (I used to do that manually by printing out the filtered ICW lists, and sorting alphabetically, but sadly, no more…)

    • Hi Martin. I know the filtered download has been reported as a bug, because I reported it:) Others probably have too. Your wish is also on my wish list, which I have submitted as an enhancement request.

  6. Roberta, I guess I’m having a brain freeze here because I can’t even find the first page that you are illustrating with. Help?

      • but mine looks nothing like what you are showing and doesn’t have the “in common with” or the other two and I’m having trouble finding it. I also can’t get it to upload my GED. It just says it will override the other one and should I proceed but there is nothing to click on. Very frustrated here because this site does not seem to work very well.

  7. Odd… it has been months since I could get any of my kits to show any ICW. I basically have to use the Matrix tool to get clues as to which matches on the same segment might be matches in common. I don’t see anything indicating that you are doing anything different than I am on basic ICW…

  8. So I just linked my maternal Aunt to myself in ftdna. Presto I had 109 maternal links and 0 paternal. Is ftdna unable to differentiate between the paternal and maternal chromosome in each pair? I understand that if all you have is raw data you cannot differentiate.

    However is you had a maternal Aunt you should be able to do a partial differentiation.. If they could and my maternal Aunt matches about 50% of one chromosome why would they not assume the other side is Paternal and provide me with Paternal matches?

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